My wife Missy and I love Mexican food and recently were talking about what our plans were going to be for Cinco de Mayo (which, by the way, was the 8-year anniversary of the launch of LinkedIn. They call it Cinco de LinkedIn). We went back and forth trying to decide where we would go.
Both of us had visions of sitting on a restaurant patio on a nice Spring day, with cold and tasty margaritas, good music, great food and a lively celebration with other people. In the end, we picked a Mexican restaurant that we hadn’t been to in awhile and that was closer to our house.
And boy, was that a mistake.
It rained. There was no patio. There was no music. But we could have lived with all of that. What we didn’t expect was the entire experience from the moment we walked into the restaurant. It went a little something like this:
1. I entered the restaurant without Missy (she was driving separately and hadn’t arrived yet). I was “greeted” by a less than enthusiastic hostess that didn’t even bother to welcome me to the restaurant. (Great first impression, huh?)
2. I told her that there would be two of us for dinner. She said she couldn’t seat me because they only had 1 server (on Cinco de Mayo?) and three tables available. I told her my wife would be arriving in 15 minutes or so. That was too long so she told me I could sit in their waiting area. (Great second impression, huh?)
3. I decided to go to the bar for a drink while I waited for Missy. After waiting for a bit, the bartender asked me what I wanted to drink. I said “Do you have any specials?” to which she replied “Uh, I think it’s $1 off domestic bottles.” to which I replied “On Cinco de Mayo, you don’t have any drink specials?” to which she replied “Well, they (the owners) know they can get away with it.” She went away for a bit and came back and confirmed that indeed the “special” was $1 off domestic bottles and reiterated that the owners “know they can get away with it” on Cinco de Mayo.
4. Missy showed up a few minutes later and I told her about how “wonderful” the experience had been thus far. We should have just left right then and there, but instead decided to see if things would get better.
5. The salsa was thin and tasted like ketchup mixed with water. I was guessing this was another thing the owners “knew they could get away with”.
6. Our waitress came up and DIDN’T tell us about the specials. “Fortunately” I had seen earlier that the special was “buy one enchilada, get one free” and asked if that was the case, which it was.
7. Missy and I begrudgingly finished our meals (neither of us liked the food) and then left. And as we walked out, do you think the hostess said “thank you for coming” or even acknowledged us when we left? Nope. The final straw on the proverbial camel’s back.
Now what I haven’t told you yet is that while all of this was going on, I was posting message after message to my personal Facebook account and my Twitter account because I wanted everyone to know that the “customer experience” at this place was horrible and that we would NEVER go there again. And now I’m blogging about it. And if I really wanted to, I could write a review on Yelp or put some comments on Foursquare.
So what can your business learn from our horrible experience at this restaurant?
1. If you haven’t realized it yet (and we really hope that you have), social media is fundamentally changing the way business is done and what customers expect from the people they buy from.
2. Word of mouth travels faster and wider than at any time in the history of business. Consumers have more power than ever to blast or praise your brand…in real time…right from their smartphones! This particular Mexican restaurant has received a ton of negative impressions because of me. I may be just one (former) customer, but in today’s world, EVERY customer matters. That’s not a cliche. That’s a fact.
3. More than ever, people are choosing to do business with companies that provide exceptional customer service, even if that means they have to pay a little more. Customers want to know that you and your brand care about them and that means doing a lot more than just saying it. Actions have, and always will, speak louder than words. Just ask Zappos, or Southwest Airlines, or USAA. Leadership in those organizations completely and totally “get it”. They care about their culture, they care about their brand, and most importantly they care about their employees and their customers. And they are crushing their competition.
4. The growth and popularity of social media demands that business owners take a good, hard look at themselves, at their company culture, their employees, and at the way they do business. What worked five years ago may not work today. You and your employees can’t be stagnant because of the fear of change. Embrace it together. The future of your business depends on it. You have to know where your customers are, listen to what they want, and realize that their expectations are increasing. The businesses that get on board the fastest are the ones that will blow away their competition for years to come.
5. What do you think your customers would say about you today? Are you doing everything you can to make sure they want to praise you instead of bash you?
What do you think? We’d love to hear about customer experiences you’ve had…both good and bad. What businesses do you know that “get it”?